Iran inches closer to nuclear weapons

Iran has acknowledged that it possesses new technologies that could bring it closer to developing nuclear weapons and more advanced missiles.

Iran has acknowledged that it possesses new technologies that could bring it closer to developing nuclear weapons and more advanced missiles. The international community is finding it more and more difficult to restrain Tehran, and increasing the country's political and technological isolation could have dire consequences.

Smuggling to evade sanctions

Iran is now capable of producing carbon-plastic composite materials in violation of UN sanctions. Iran's Defense Minister Ahmad Wahidi said his country is among ten nations in the world that can manufacture them. Associated Press quoted Wahidi as saying that this new capability will eliminate a bottleneck in Iran's production of modern military systems.

Carbon-plastic composites play a key role in the production of modern solid-propellant rocket engines. Given Iran's efforts to develop long-range solid-propellant missiles, Wahidi's ostentatious announcement should worry detractors.

Composite materials are a highly sensitive dual-purpose technology, whose export to various "unreliable" countries is closely monitored. Iran began to experience restrictions in its pursuit of this technology in 2004, but it apparently bypassed international sanctions by resorting to smuggling the necessary components.

In 2005-2006, it was reported that some companies in Gulf countries, registered in the name of Iranian nationals, were illegally importing metal-ceramic composites from China and India.

Metal-ceramic composites are an extremely interesting special material. It is virtually impossible to build the fuel assemblies of nuclear reactors without them. They are also used in jet engines due to their unique heat-resistant properties.

Iran has successfully smuggled both carbon-plastic composites and metal-ceramic composites into the country, two essential technologies it had lacked.

As for missile technology, Iran is steadily mastering the so-called Category II, a list of critical dual-purpose items not subject to sanctions but which have a direct bearing on Iran's ability to produce modern missiles. Iran is also making progress on nuclear technologies.

Silver bullet

It appears that the Iranian defense industry is becoming increasingly able to advance its nuclear-missile program without substantial foreign technology transfers.

Arab nations in the Middle East have at times invested heavily in their hi-tech defense programs, primarily nuclear projects, but their economies were too backward in terms of engineering, production and human-resource capabilities to make much progress independently.

There was generally a "secret facility" built with substantial foreign assistance. A wide range of key equipment was imported, with foreign specialists completing a number of onsite operations. This arrangement made Arab nuclear projects extremely vulnerable, and resulted in surgical strikes against vital elements of the potentially dangerous production facilities.

Israel took full advantage of the situation. In 1981, Israeli bombers destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor at the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Center near Baghdad during Operation Opera. Analysts say the Israeli strike virtually halted the entire Iraqi nuclear program. In September 2007, Israeli warplanes hit an unspecified facility in Syria. Some reports claim that the facility was part of Damascus' nuclear program.

Both air strikes accomplished their objectives. The nuclear weapons programs of Arab regimes unfriendly to Israel slowed down considerably. However, sending in the cavalry against Iran will not have the same success. Israel is unable to mount such an attack on Iran, and not because of the distance between the two countries. In 1976, for example, Tel Aviv conducted a spectacular hostage rescue operation at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. That was an extremely difficult objective because Israeli special forces had to be illegally redeployed over the Red Sea, Somalia and Ethiopia's Ogaden Desert.

The problem is that Iran's level of industrial and technological development is far beyond that of Syria and Saddam's Iraq. Israel itself has indirectly acknowledged this. "With Iran it's a different project. There is no one silver bullet you can hit and that's over," a senior Israeli defense official told Reuters.

Iran has a strong science education system. Iranian students perform fairly well at international physics and mathematics Olympiads.

It appears that opponents of Iran's nuclear program will soon have to stop treating the Iranian regime as a big, dumb kid who wants a nuclear bomb to scare its neighbors. Sooner or later, Iran's right to possess the most advanced military technologies, including nuclear weapons, will have to be addressed in earnest.

This right will be exercised in a painful manner for Iran's neighbors if the international community continues to pursue tougher measures to contain Tehran's technological development and to isolate it politically, without offering any alternative for elevating the Iranian state to that level of international politics that Tehran has de facto attained.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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